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Absence rates surge in Winnipeg schools as students, teachers struggle with sickness

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Absence rates surge in Winnipeg schools as students, teachers struggle with sickness
Cold and flu season has just started but it’s already hitting Winnipeg schools with a vengeance, with some divisions reporting one in five students are home sick right now – Nov 30, 2022

Cold and flu season has just started but it’s already hitting Winnipeg schools with a vengeance, with some divisions reporting one in five students are home sick right now.

In Seven Oaks School Division absenteeism jumped from 13 to 20 per cent in the last two weeks alone.

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“It just seems to be an awful lot of flus and viruses floating around,” Superintendent Brian O’Leary said.

In many cases, O’Leary said students are missing five to seven days of school at a time.

Click to play video: 'Children’s hospital numbers yet to peak'
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With some families being hit by the bug multiple times already this flu season, it’s leading to students falling further behind than they already were after years of remote learning during the pandemic.

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“There’s always been a significant range from the kid who’s doing the best to the kid who’s really struggling,” O’Leary said. “But I would say those gaps are wider than they’ve been in the past.”

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The city’s largest division, Winnipeg School Division, has roughly 33,000 students from kindergarten to Grade 12. According to a spokesperson, it is also seeing a higher than normal student absence rate, which recently hit 20 per cent.

“While we are concerned about the impact this may have on students’ learning and recovery from disruptions due to the pandemic, we also view parent and guardian’s cooperation in keeping sick kids home from school as a positive action for the school community,” Communications Team Lead Radean Carter told Global News.

Click to play video: 'Absenteeism in Manitoba schools'
Absenteeism in Manitoba schools

It’s up to teachers to make up for any learning loss students face when they are absent, but with teachers being impacted by illnesses as well, it becomes more difficult to do, said James Bedford, president of the Manitoba Teachers Society.

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“We’re seeing teachers get ill as well and I’m hearing stories about, you know, there’s two Grade 2 classes in the school. So, they’ll just combine the two classes under the direction of one teacher because they simply can’t find a substitute,” Bedford said.

O’Leary said when they can’t fill temporary teacher absences it’s those types of solutions they have to look for.

“Where we’re without a substitute, we’ll cover the classes with younger grades and sometimes we aren’t covering high school where we’re short,” he said. “We’re sometimes prevailing upon a resource teacher or counselor to cover a class for that.”

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For many, getting caught up will simply take time and a lot of patience.

“I’m not sure if there’s any magic bullet out there that that will get everybody caught up really, really quickly,” Bedford said.

“This is just a matter of doing an awful lot of difficult work.”

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Children’s Hospital sees huge uptick in young patients early in flu season

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